Field course allows cultural experiences

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Graduate students from the Aboriginal field of study at Wilfrid Laurier University spent last week in the bush as part of the program’s culture camp. Spanning from Sept. 9-14, this is the first course students take as part of the Aboriginal field of study program, a masters of social work program.

Exposing students to cultural learning processes, culture camp is an opportunity for students to be immersed in the indigenous worldview beyond the classroom.

“It takes them back to our teachings of the land and exposes them to a holistic healing approach,” explained Kathy Absolon-King, interim program coordinator and associate professor for the Aboriginal field of study.

“It also helps them to build relationships with each other.”

Dean of the faculty of social work, Nick Coady, commented on the program as a whole.

“I would say personal and academic development are more interwoven in the Aboriginal field of study. I think that’s something that our other fields of study might learn from,” he said.

Ten students were in attendance for the full five days, participating in such activities as building a sweat lodge, making a hand-drum and fashioning moccasins.

The camp as a whole including these projects is foundational to the rest of the program.

The hand-drum is carried with students throughout the duration of the program, enacting a healing tool just as a stethoscope is to a medical student.

The moccasins are to be used in the circle room — a round classroom which belongs to the program.

Absolon-King described the process.

“They will symbolically put on their moccasins when they come into the circle room and step into that indigenous based learning process,” she explained.

Space was rented from the Pierce Williams Christian Centre, which the culture camp has been using for the past few years.

“We have it on one of our wish lists for the program to get land…so we can create more of a permanent place for our culture camp,” expressed Absolon- King.

Echoing this desire was Jean Becker, senior advisor for Aboriginal initiatives and elder for this year’s culture camp.

Becker worked with the camp for four years since it began in September 2006.

Her involvement this year allowed her to see how it has developed.

“[Students] were so ready to participate and engage in what we were doing. It really was like they started at a whole different level than the earlier program students did,” said Becker.

“I felt there was a real development, so I was really happy to see that.”

Absolon-King said that this year’s camp ran smoothly.

“We introduce [students] to a lot of things in the week,” she continued.

“We keep them really busy, which means we’re really busy. So at the end of the day we’re tired, but it’s a good tired.”

According to Absolon-King, the student response has been positive thus far.

Becker noted students are appreciative of having this experience at a post-secondary institution.

“We had a student who phrased it well: ‘This is the first time I’ve done a university program where I didn’t have to leave myself at the door’,” quoted Becker.

“I think that’s really indicative of the need to have these kinds of programs for students.”

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